Hamster Diseases their symptoms and prevention
The Hamster is subject to several diseases, as Colds , the Wet Tail , Diarrhea and Constipation , parasites as Mange , worms , Fleas and Lice , Eye problems like Protruding and sticky eyes .Lumps and Bumps , Paralysis , Abscesses , Circling and some behavioral problems as well ; that it is better to avoid than to treat because the treatments are rarely effective.
Why is it better to avoid Hamsters diseases than to treat them?
There are a few reasons why you should prevent your hamster from getting sick if you don’t want to risk losing it prematurely:
1-Hamsters hide their disease:
First of all, hamsters are prey and in an innate way, they do everything they can to hide the symptoms of their illnesses, because in the wild, predators generally attack sick individuals.
You will only know that your hamster is sick when it becomes very serious and it is usually too late to save your hamster.
2- Hamsters stress quickly and are difficult to treat:
Hamsters have a small body, which is not easy to treat, they do not tolerate drugs, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories and especially their side effects.
The stress of going to the vet, the consultation and the treatment will alone bring your hamster to the end of its life and decrease the chances of its recovery.
3- It is rare to find a veterinarian who specializes in hamsters.
So what are the common hamster diseases and what can you do to prevent your hamster from contracting them?
Common hamster diseases , their symptoms , treatments and prevention:
1-Wet Tail (Proliferative Ileitis):
As its name indicates, this hamster disease is caused by bacteria such as (Lawsonia intracellularis, Escherichia Coli, Campylobacter, Chlamydia and Cryptosporidium species) It happens in the intestines of the hamster.
You can recognize this disease when:
- Your hamster has its tail wet, I mean the hair of its anal region and matted with fecal matter (traces of diarrhea).
- You will also notice a lethargy and smell a bad odor when you approach your hamster.
- Your hamster will sleep more than usual but will eat less
- Your hamster will have a hunched back and ears bent backwards
- Your hamster may also show signs of aggression (bar biting & nipping).
Your hamster must see a veterinarian as soon as possible (less than two days), this disease is contagious, isolate the hamster and the objects it uses.
Avoid all fresh food and you must hydrate your hamster with a syringe and water or Pedialyte Electrolyte if he refuses to drink.
Even if treated, this disease is fatal and the hamster can die in less than 3 days.
The Cause: Stress is what triggers this disease.
To know if your hamster is dehydrated, just pull on the skin behind its shoulders and if the skin quickly regains its shape after you have released it, know that your hamster is not dehydrated, and if the skin remains pulled and forms a small mound, give water with a syringe to your hamster because it is surely dehydrated
This hamster disease has some symptoms that resemble those of wet tail ; except that your hamster will not stop eating, will not have a bent back.
You will just notice that your hamster is like drugged or drunk and his stool is soft or almost liquid and light in color.
I have seen a hamster with diarrhea caused by a virus and it was all wet.You will also notice that his urine smells really bad when he has diarrhea.
The cause of diarrhea in hamsters can be salmonella or the flu virus. It could also be a diet too rich in fresh vegetables that contain too much water or laxative agents.
The uncleanliness of the cage and poor hygiene of the hamster can also be the cause of diarrhea in the hamster, without forgetting the stress of course.
You must see a veterinarian who will prescribe antibiotics for your hamster, clean the cage, bring back calm in the room of the hamster, stop temporarily (for a few days) the food which contains water like vegetables.
Make sure that your hamster’s water bowl is always full and buy a syringe and give water to your hamster if it refuses to hydrate, also keep your hamster’s cage at a stable temperature 70-85 °F and avoid drafts especially if it is the flu that is behind this diarrhea.
A full cleaning of the cage is also very recommended in this case.
Constipation is common in hamsters, you would recognize this disease when your hamster deposits stools already hard when they should normally be a little soft when they come out and only become dry a few moments later.
There are other signs of constipation in hamsters, such as abdominal pain that makes the hamster’s back arch, and stools that are hard and smaller than usual. Your hamster will take longer to defecate and you may even see tiny worms in his stool when it is due to a parasite infection).
In the most severe case of constipation, you may even notice that your hamster’s anus is sticking out completely, forming a small tube.
The cause of constipation in Hamsters :
Folded intestines or an intestinal blockage due to ingesting some of his bedding can be the reason for constipation but it could also be an intestinal inflammation (severe), or parasites like roundworm or tapeworm.
Lack of water intake or liver disease, so monitor the level of the water bowl or water bottle of your hamster.
To avoid constipation, your hamster must have permanent access to clean water, avoid unwashed plants and low cost beddings that may contain parasites, unsterilized and unsterilized common sands in bath blood.
The cleanliness of the cage is also a determining factor in avoiding this disease.
Older hamsters prefer to drink from a bowl, so make it easy for your hamster to access water.
Mites : Hair loss and dry skin are the two main symptoms of this infection.
Fleas : your hamster will spend a lot of time scratching itself, it comes from the bedding or from another pet, maybe your cat or if you live in the country and your hamster received a visit from a mouse at night while you were sleeping!
You can use petroleum jelly that you apply periodically on the outside of your hamster’s ears.
This is usually due to a too dry micro-climate in your hamster’s cage, I’m not saying you should create too much humidity but extreme heat is not recommended for hamsters.
Worms : roundworms, tapeworms to name only two affect your hamster after it has eaten contaminated pellets for example or any other food that could contain this kind of worms.
Sarcoptic Mange : the symptoms are dry and scaly skin, scratching, thinning hair followed by bald patches and head shaking.
The cause of parasites (parasitic spiders or tiny insects) is usually the use of the wrong bedding, contact with another infected pet or poor hygiene of the enclosure and its food.
Hamsters are also prone to diseases that can affect the eyes, here are the most common:
Eye infection: Infections occur when the hamster has something itchy in the eye, dust or something stuck in the eye, your hamster will have a swollen, watery eye and will scratch his eyes almost without stopping.
Sticky Eye : this disease is the fact that your hamster will have runny eyes when he sleeps, his tears dry and stick his eyelids together preventing the hamster to open his eyes.
Just soak a soft cloth with clean water and clean your hamster’s eyes.
Protruding eyes: In this case, your hamster’s eyes become asymmetrical, the reason is usually an accident or an infection, and a visit to the vet is advised in this case.
Eyelid Rub: The eyelids of your hamster will scratch the inside of the eyes, the hamster will have droppings of the eyes and it must see a Vet for treatment, it is like having sand or dust in the eyes.
These eye infections can easily be avoided by making sure to use only paper-based bedding, clean, sterilized sand for sanbath and not dusty.
6-Lumps and Bumps:
These are lumps that appear quickly in hamsters and a visit to the vet for perhaps an intervention is advised in this case.
Testicular lamps: this is usually a cancer of the testicles in males.
Mammary gland lumps: These lumps occur in females, it is like breast cancer and only a vet can advise you in these two cases.
You will notice if your hamster is at risk of paralysis that it has more and more trouble using its front legs.
This is usually due to a lack of activity because the cage is too small, the wheel is too small which will create a problem with the spine; or there is no wheel in the cage ….etc
A hamster injured by a fall or a fight with a fellow hamster can also be paralyzed, a partial paralysis of the back legs for example, the lack of essential vitamins like Vitamin D, K and E.
To avoid paralysis, make sure your hamster’s cage is spacious and secure and make sure your hamster has a diet rich in vitamins , I’m not talking about giving your hammies extra vitamin drops !! .
Provide enrichment for your hamster and encourage exercise, and provide a playpen and more playtime for your little fella.
This is like the rabbit head tilt, the hamster will tilt its head to one side and just spin around in a circle.
This disease is caused by an infection of the inner ear of the hamster, due to a lung infection when the hamster’s cage is poorly maintained or the bedding or food is infested with bacteria.
A fall or blow to the head can cause head trauma and neurological problems that will lead to head tilt as well.
If the circling is caused by head trauma, it is difficult to treat and only your vet will advise you on this.
But if the cause of the head tilt is an infection, the vet will just prescribe some antibiotics that you will give orally to your hamster and the healing is possible.
Just do a thorough cleaning of the cage.
To avoid head tilt, you should keep your hamster’s cage clean and use a paper-based bedding and avoid dropping your hamster, especially on its head.
9-Hamster Abscesses :
Abscesses are an accumulation of pus, white blood cells that fight an infection when your hamster is sick.
The pus will accumulate and form a hard or soft to the touch subcutaneous sac, you can find an abscess anywhere on the hamster’s body, usually near the infection.
Red or pink in color, the abscesses may leak and wet the hamster’s fur a bit, you will see a small patch of dried hair stuck together. The abscesses can be internal as well, those are the most difficult to discover and treat.
The cause of abscesses in hamsters :
These abscesses are usually caused by bacterial or parasitic infections, cuts and wounds that become infected, dental cavities or any other respiratory or internal infection.
Abscesses caused by tooth decay must be taken seriously, because the hamster’s tooth must be treated at the same time as the abscess, in which the veterinarian will make a small incision, painless, do not worry, and make the pus come out.
It will also be necessary to disinfect the wound and antibiotics will also be administered to fight the infection that caused the abscess.
Some parents disinfecting these abscesses at home after piercing the pus pocket, soak some clean cotton with salt water, a little alcohol or naturally with a thyme infusion and disinfect the place.
To avoid abscesses, it is necessary to avoid infections, to check often the state of the teeth of your hamster and is it has a wound or a cut… and to take care that it eats healthy and to the cleanliness of the cage also.
10- Respiratory problems:
If your hamster suddenly becomes inactive and lethargic, loses his usual appetite, has trouble breathing, curled up on himself, shaking, you see his rib cage barely move when he breathes.
If he has a runny nose (mucus) and eyes, wheezing, coughing, if he sneezes, if he has a coat that becomes dull and loses its luster; know that he may have a lung infection, and pneumonia in the worst case.
The cause: Not only viruses and bacteria can be behind your hamster’s respiratory problems, as the common cold, the flu.
Streptococcus: sore throats and the Pasteurella bacteria; but also, a Bedding of poor quality as those based on wood shavings such as pine and cedar, poor hygiene of the cage or hamster, drafts, scented beddings, spoiled food, a dusty sand in the blood bath …
It is not uncommon that your hamster who has trouble breathing gets up right after you give him a little infusion of thyme, this is what I personally take when I have trouble breathing …
But sometimes, if the symptoms are multiple, it’s best to start by taking your hamster to the vet, and antibiotics may be the best way to help your hamster get rid of the infection.
Be sure to keep your hamster well hydrated and clean the cage if it is a viral or bacterial infection.
To prevent respiratory problems in hamsters, start by choosing the right place to put the cage, no draught, no dust, no direct sunlight, no humidity
Choose a room that has a stable temperature day and night, then choose a paper-based bedding and ensure that the cage remains clean.
A good diet and regular cleaning of the cage and you just have to avoid approaching your hamster when you have the flu or another contagious virus.
I’m going to talk mostly about Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) , a hamster that has this infection will pee more frequently than usual, it will be in pain and may even have some blood in the urine.
This infection must be discovered in time and treated by a veterinarian by administering Enrofloxacin (Baytril), otherwise there is a risk that this infection that enters the urethra and infects the bladder, will spread and infect the kidneys, the symptoms would be frequent urination, lethargy and rapid weight loss.
It could also be that your hamster develops a bladder stone, which will cause a partial blockage of its urinary system and your hamster will urinate less than before and it will be painful. In this case, he may even stop seeing to avoid urinating, which will complicate the problem, so take him to the vet if you suspect this.
12- Overgrown teeth or nails :
Nails that become too long and are not trimmed can bend and get into the hamster’s feet and cause sores and infections. These untrimmed nails can also cause Bumblefoot.
The hamster’s teeth can also get too grown , I’m talking about the incisors, this happens when the hamster doesn’t have things to chew on to file down its teeth daily.
If you notice that there is blood in your hamster’s mouth or that it has trouble feeding or has stopped eating altogether, you should know that it may have a broken tooth or an abscess in its mouth.
You must trim the nails of your hamster as soon as you notice that they grow a little too much, also buy a playpen to get your hamster out of his cage and it allows to wear his nails naturally the fact that he moves on the ground especially if it is tile … or just dirt)
As far as teeth are concerned, just give your hamster something to chew on, branches and toys to chew on, otherwise his teeth need to be trimmed by a vet before it gets worse.
13- Obesity in hamsters :
Obesity in hamsters is a real scourge, we can advise you to add food to your hamster only after 24 or 48 hours depending on the quantity you give him.
They hide their food in their nest and eat all the time, avoid giving too many seeds that contain fat, too many mealworms, too many sweets and especially sweet and exotic fruits…
I have written about the ideal diet for a hamster, I invite you to have a look at it.
I just want to draw your attention to hamsters that lose weight quickly, it’s a bad sign too, in this case you have to look for other symptoms that could associate this rapid weight loss to one of the diseases I talked about.
14- Hamster injuries , falls , fights and accidents :
I want to talk about hamster falls , hamsters that fall from the hands of children and may not even survive these falls , I have written a whole article , full of tips to avoid injuries and falls to your hamster , I recommend you to read it too .
15- Colds :
This is the common cold, you will notice a swollen and/or runny nose, lethargy and ears folded back on your hamster’s body, sneezing and eventually, a dull coat and weight loss.
You may have given him the flu virus, and if not you, make sure to clean the cage, the bedding may be wet, think about changing it, clean the elements of the cage, make sure the temperature of the room remains stable.
Give also a little more fruit to your hamster to strengthen its immunity and avoid stressing it. Your hamster must have a dry cage .
To avoid the flu, you should not handle your hamster if you are sick yourself, also avoid cold and drafts, never wet your hamster and quickly change the places of his bedding when he wets them.
16- Bumblefoot :
It’s an infection that appears in the hamster’s paws because of a bad bedding, a wire mesh cage floor, a mesh wheel, but also the bad hygiene and the lack of cleaning of the cage.
Poorly trimmed nails and obesity are also two factors that can cause Bumblefoot (Ulcerative Pododermatitis).
Symptoms are swollen hamster legs, he can’t move easily and starts to limp.
A visit to the veterinarian is necessary in this case to treat this infection, but it is necessary to avoid the triggers afterwards.
17- Diabetes in hamsters:
This is especially true for dwarf hamsters, you will suspect that your hamster has diabetes if it seems to be tired all night and lacks activity.
He will not go on his wheel as he used to or he will get off it too quickly.
You will notice an increase in his water intake and you will see him pee more often as well, a change in his appetite, usually a reluctance to eat.
The last symptom of diabetes in hamsters is rapid weight loss or the opposite, your hamster will quickly become obese.
The causes of diabetes can be excessive consumption of fruit and sugary foods, along with a lack of exercise and a small cage.
Continuous stress can also trigger diabetes.
It could also be a hereditary disease and usually affects hybrid hamsters.
To avoid diabetes in hamsters you should choose a purebred hamster and not a crossbreed, make sure it has a balanced diet, clean water that is always available and plenty of exercise and outings in its playpen.
How to avoid hamster diseases ? :
I will now give you some advice to avoid your hamster to get sick and especially to avoid triggering these diseases yourself :
1- Choose a healthy hamster :
The first condition to avoid the risk of your hamster getting sick often is to choose a healthy hamster, I talked about it in detail on how to choose your first hamster, but basically you need :
- A purebred hamster and not a hybrid
- A dynamic and curious hamster
- A hamster that has clear eyes, without cataracts and very bright and open, no tears or crust.
- A healthy nose and ears, dry, without discharge
- A clean and dry bottom and no signs of diarrhea in the cage
2- A large enclosure is a vital need for your hamster:
The second thing to do if you want your hamster to stay healthy and away from health problems and injuries is to provide all what your hammy will need , especially a large enclosure.
A hamster needs at least 1000 square inches of continuous floor space, that’s the minimum.
The enclosure must also have an ideal bedding, a paper-based one, a suitable wheel, plenty of toys and entertainment to prevent your hamster from getting bored and falling victim to stress and bar biting and wet tail…
The cage must also have a very important thing that will allow your hamster to stay clean and keep a healthy fur and a skin without parasites, it is the sandbox or sand bath.
3- A balanced diet:
For your hamster to stay healthy, it will be necessary to give him a well-balanced food and especially very varied.
I have also talked about the ideal diet for hamsters and their eating habits, but basically your hamster’s food should be composed of :
- A mix of as many varieties of seeds and cereals as possible for hamsters of course.
- Fresh vegetables and herbs
- Protein foods
- Treats and fruit in moderation
- A mix of dried herbs
- Chewable branches
- Plenty of fresh water that’s easily accessible.
Also, avoid having your hamster create mold by storing its food in its bedding, change its water daily and only give it more food when its daily ration is completely consumed.
4-Avoid stressing your hamster:
Stress is the number 1 enemy of the hamster and the trigger of the most serious diseases like wet tail…
You must therefore do everything possible to avoid stressing your hamster:
Install his cage in a quiet place, not a passage or a corridor, avoid the draft, direct exposure to sunlight, heat, cold or humidity and especially dust.
Install the cage in a quiet place, away from the window and outside noise, avoid exposing your hamster to noise.
Avoid stressing your hamster by exposing it to artificial light, only turn on the light at night if there is a valid reason. You have just to respect its biological succession of day and night
Never put two hamsters in the same cage even if it is very large if you want to avoid fights and injuries. You are only allowed to do this when they are brothers and less than 4 weeks old (they are not yet adults).
Avoid exposing your hamster to strong odors, if you put on perfume, do not get too close to your hamster, he has a sensitive nose and fragile lungs. Also avoid air fresheners and insecticides …etc
Your hamster has nothing to do with your other pet, your cat for example should never approach your hamster.
The hamster loves solitude, females tolerate males only for a few moments during coupling, and males love to live alone and seek a female only when she secretes sex hormones to attract males.
5-The cleanliness of the hamster and its cage guarantee a long life:
A clean hamster in a clean enclosure is an excellent way to prevent your hamster from contracting diseases.
First, you should use paper-based bedding, which is absorbent and retains odors. This will prevent bacteria from spreading quickly when your hamster urinates in a place or hides fresh food in its nest…
After that, you only need to do spot cleaning every day and a complete cleaning and change of at least ⅓ of the bedding once a month, and once every 20 days during the summer.
Also make sure your hamster does his daily grooming session , and also takes sand baths , if not , you should help him to do it and stay clean , especially if he is old , injured due to a fall or recovering .
To avoid algae , bacteria and germs in the water of your hamster, change it every day and as soon as you notice that it has changed color.
I also advise you to use a water bowl instead of a bottle, unless you are away for more than a day.
A hamster that stays well hydrated is a hamster that will stay healthy, especially when the weather is a bit hot.
6- Create a routine for your hamster:
You must create a routine with your hamster, do not disturb it during the day when it sleeps unless necessary, give it its food at the same time each day, playtime, always at the same time … etc.
Hamsters hate surprises and your hamster will only behave better when you establish a daily routine with him.
7-Your hamster needs exercise and stimulation to stay in shape:
Hamsters are curious, playful and great night walkers. Enclosing your hamster in an enclosure, even a 2,000 square inch one, will drastically reduce its life expectancy.
Hamsters need a lot of exercise to stay in shape, so a good-sized wheel is necessary (12 inches for Syrians and at least 6.5 inches for Dwarf hamsters).
Also put toys in the enclosure, puzzles that offer seeds, climbing toys (not for an old hamster), tunnels, passages, branches, bridges, floors and ladders, rope, hideouts…
Your hamster should have plenty of enrichment, toys and outlets in its playpen, to interact with you and enjoy more space.
8-Health check up:
You must learn to detect the symptoms of hamster diseases to act and try to save your hamster before the disease becomes too serious and incurable.
You need to know your hamster’s habits, its behavior to detect any changes and especially get into the habit of weighing your hamster with a small kitchen scale to detect any increase or decrease in its weight that would surely be a sign of health problem.
Don’t stress your hamster by taking it to the vet at the slightest sneeze, etc. This is especially true with old hamsters as a trip to the vet could be fatal.
9- You should never impose yourself on your hamster.
When you install it in your home, give it a few weeks to adapt, then try to tame it. Be patient and do not force your hamster to interact with you.
Hamsters have different characters and personalities, and if even after training him , your hamster bites you and doesn’t like handling, too bad, you have to respect his choice and leave him alone, otherwise you will cause him stress.
10-Avoid sudden changes for your hamster:
Your hamster loves stability, routine and planning and you should never impose sudden changes, whether in his diet by introducing a new food, too quickly, but also, you must avoid changes in interaction schedules, changes in temperature and light … etc.
As I told you before, avoid hamster diseases instead of trying to cure them.
A large cage, good food, quiet and occupation are all your hamster will need to stay healthy, not to mention the most important ingredient of all which is of course:
Your unconditional love for your hamster and your daily interaction with him and all the cuddles and kind words that you whisper in his tiny and cute ears.
I hope that I have finally done the trick of the common hamster diseases, their symptoms, their treatments and especially how to avoid them
I will come back often to add more tips to this article for the good of our hamsters
I invite you to come back to this article every time you doubt that your hamster has a problem in order to check the symptoms and act in time to save your hamster.